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Teens taught about distracted driving with virtual reality

Posted: 11:19 PM, Aug 03, 2017
Updated: 2017-08-04 05:19:44Z

A recent AAA study shows that people between 19 and 24 years old are two times more likely than any other age group to text and drive. 

Chris Johnson of AT&T's "It Can Wait" campaign to end distracted driving says this is a deadly epidemic that's taken far too many lives.

"More and more people give away the only life they have for a text, a post, a snap, an email," he said. "We're telling kids and adults: it's not okay."

As a way to try and find a cure to this epidemic, "It Can Wait" is using a new technology to try and show teenagers just how dangerous distracted driving is: virtual reality. The simulator uses texting and driving as an example, but Johnson explained there are other means of distracted driving as well: eating, putting on makeup, even talking to friends.

Alfred Swen and Irie Reyna are two teenagers who are eager to get their driver's licenses. Both of them took part in the simulation Thursday afternoon at the Boy's and Girls Clubs of Tucson. 

"I was actually nervous," Reyna said. "Because I've actually texted and drove before."

Going through the simulator was a great experience for her, she explained. From start to finish, the immersive experience in the virtual reality world felt very realistic to her.

"I felt hot, my hands were getting sweaty, I was really nervous," Reyna said. "He was swerving everywhere, then having him keep checking his phone, then almost hitting somebody three times -- it made me more nervous to do it again. So I've decided, no I will not do it again."

When Swen got out of the headset, he said he felt very frustrated. The simulator takes the person through many near-misses, until the very end when the person gets in a crash. He said his heart was racing by the end of the experience.

"I don't understand why he kept checking it," Swen said. 

However, it wasn't a scare tactic. Neither of them were scared; rather, they felt compelled to share with their friends and family to stop texting, snapping, emailing -- using the phone -- while driving.

"No, no, never," Swen said. "It's not just about me, its about others."

Safe to say they learned Johnson's main "It Can Wait," message.

"When you're driving your car, be responsible, keep your eyes on the road, not on your phones," he said.